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Statistical trends

Drugs

Populations

Alcohol

Illicit drugs

Meth/amphetamine (including ice)

Ecstasy

Heroin

Cannabis

Synthetic cannabis

Pharmaceutical drugs

Older people

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

Socioeconomic status

Employment status

Remote populations

Homosexual and bisexual populations

Pregnant women

Alcohol

The general population perceives excessive alcohol use as a problem. In 2013, alcohol was the most commonly mentioned drug that people thought caused the most deaths (34%) and excessive alcohol consumption was the drug of most serious concern to the general community (43%).1

Risky drinking

Fewer Australians (14 years or over) are drinking at risky levels. Risky levels are defined by the Australian alcohol guidelines. 18.2% exceeded the 'lifetime risk' guideline in 2013 compared to 20.5% in 2010. 26.4% exceeded the 'single occasion risk' guideline in 2013 compared to 29.0% in 2010. 

About half (49%) of drinkers took action to reduce their alcohol intake in 2013 and the main reason for doing this was due to concern for their health. 1

This decline in risky drinking is positive. However, alcohol still causes significant harm in our community as the following statistics demonstrate1.

Costs and harms of drinking

Alcohol causes more than twice as many deaths as road accidents 2. In fact alcohol kills 15 Australians every day, and 5,554 each year. It also hospitalises 430 Australians every day, and 157,132 each year.8

The harms from alcohol cost Australians $15.3 billion a year (alcohol taxes only generate $7 billion)3.

Almost 5 million Australians aged 14 and over (26%) had been a victim of an alcohol-related incident in 2013. Most of these incidents involved verbal abuse (22%).1

Around 1 in 5 recent drinkers aged 14 years or older put themselves or others at risk of harm while under the influence of alcohol in the previous 12 months. Driving a vehicle was the most common risky activity undertaken (12.2% of recent drinkers).1

Gender and alcohol

Men are more likely to consume alcohol in quantities that exceeded the Australian alcohol guidelines more often than women, with 20% of men consuming these quantities at least weekly (compared with 7.5% of women)1.

Young people and alcohol

The proportion of young people (12–17 years) who are choosing not to drink has risen from 63.6% in 2010 to 72.3% in 20131.

The age at which young people (aged 14–24) are having their first drink is being delayed, rising from 14.4 years in 1998 to 15.7 years in 20131.

Young people delaying drinking or choosing not to drink is positive. However, there are still too many young people not following the Australian alcohol guidelines, which state that not drinking is the safest option for people under 18 years4.

Alcohol contributes to the 3 major causes of teen death: injury, homicide and suicide4.

17% of 15–18 year olds say they had sex when drunk or 'high'5.

66.6% of Australians support regulation of alcohol supply to minors on private premises. All states and territories have this secondary supply legislation except Western Australia, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory1.

Alcohol sponsorship of sporting events

There was a significant increase in the proportion of Australians who supported banning alcohol sponsorship of sporting events from 48.3% in 2010 to 53.6% in 20131.

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Illicit drugs

15% of Australians used an illicit drug (including using a pharmaceutical drug for non-medical purposes) in the previous 12 months.

41.8% of Australians aged 14 years and over had used illicit drugs in their lifetime.

People aged 20-29 were more likely to have used illicit drugs than other age groups, with more than a quarter (27%) reporting illicit use of drugs in the previous 12 months. However, older people are increasingly using illicit drugs.

The most common drug used by people aged 14 years and over, both recently and over the lifetime, was cannabis.

People who use cannabis or meth/amphetamine were more likely to use these drugs on a regular basis, with most people using them at least every few months (64% and 52% respectively).

Ecstasy or cocaine were more likely to be used infrequently, with many people only using the drug once or twice a year (54% and 71% respectively).

Among people who had used an illicit drug in their lifetime, most people aged 14 years or older reported trying illicit drugs because they were curious to see what it was like (66%).

Meth/amphetamine (including ice)

There was no increase in the proportion of Australians (aged 14 year or over) who use meth/amphetamine (including ice) in 2013 compared to the 2010. However, among the people who used these drugs there was a change in the main form used:

  • Use of powder (speed) decreased significantly (50.6% in 2010 to 28.5% in 2013)
  • Use of ice more than doubled (21.7% 2010 to 50.4% in 2013).1


Among the people who use ice, the proportion of people who used at least once a week or more increased from 12.4% in 2010 to 25.3% in 2013.1

More Australians thought that meth/amphetamine was the illicit drug of most concern to the community (increasing significantly from 9.4% in 2010 to 16.1% 2013)1.

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Ecstasy

Significant declines were seen in recent use of ecstasy among Australians (aged 14 years or older), from 3.0% in 2010 to 2.5% in 20131.

However, preliminary data from the 2014 Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (a survey of people who regularly use ecstasy in Australia) suggests there is an increasing trend towards the use of ecstasy in forms other than pills – including MDMA crystal. 58% of people who use MDMA crystal/rock reported it being of 'high' purity compared to 21% who reported pills, powder and capsules purity to be 'high'.9

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Heroin

Significant declines were seen in recent use of heroin among Australians (aged 14 years or older), from 0.2% in 2010 to 0.1% in 20131.

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Cannabis

Between 2010 and 2013 there was no significant change in the number of Australians (aged 14 years or older) who had used cannabis in the previous 12 months. The number of people recently using cannabis remained around 10%.1

75% of Australians aged 14 and over support a clinical trial of cannabis to treat medical conditions1.

69% of Australians aged 14 and over support a change in legislation permitting the use of cannabis for medical purposes, while 26% think personal use of cannabis should be legal1.

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Synthetic cannabis

1.2% of Australians aged 14 years or older (about 230,000 people) had used synthetic cannabis in 20131. This is the first time data has been collected on this drug by the National Drug Strategy Household Survey.

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Pharmaceutical drug misuse

Recent non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs is at the highest level among Australians (aged 14 years or over) since 19981.

In 2013, 4.7% of Australians had misused pharmaceutical drugs in the previous 12 months, compared to 3.7% in 20071.

More people are dying from drug overdoses including from pharmaceuticals than are dying on the roads every year6.

Non-opioid analgesics (such as paracetamol) are the third most common drugs involved in ambulance attendances in Victoria, following alcohol and benzodiazepines7.

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Population groups

Older people

Among Australians (aged 14 years or older), the largest increase in illicit use of drugs was in the 50+ age group. 11.1% of Australians aged 50–59 years used illicit drugs in 2013 compared to 8.8% in 20101.

6.4% of Australians aged 60+ years used illicit drugs in 2013 compared to 5.2% in 20101.

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

In general, high proportions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples smoked tobacco, drank alcohol at risky levels, used cannabis and meth/amphetamines in the last 12 months compared with non-Indigenous Australians1.

However, Indigenous Australians were also more likely to abstain from drinking alcohol than non-Indigenous Australians (28% compared with 22% respectively)1.

There was no significant change in daily tobacco smoking or illicit drug use among this population group between 2010 and 2013, but there was a decline in the proportion exceeding the lifetime risk guidelines for alcohol: from 32.0% in 2010 to 22.7% in 20131.

Rates of cannabis use among this group remained relatively stable in 2013 compared to the previous survey. Cannabis use is generally twice that of non-Indigenous Australians (19.0% compared to 10.0% for non-Indigenous Australians)1.

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Socioeconomic status

People with the highest socioeconomic status (SES) were more likely to consume alcohol in risky quantities and to have used ecstasy and cocaine in the previous 12 months than people with the lowest SES1.

People with the lowest SES were twice as likely to abstain as people in the highest SES group1.

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Employment status

Use of illicit drugs in the past 12 months was more prevalent among people who are unemployed. This group was 1.6 times more likely to use cannabis, 2.4 times more likely to use meth/amphetamines and 1.8 times more likely to use ecstasy than employed people.1

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Remote populations

People living in remote and very remote areas were twice as likely as people in major cities to smoke tobacco daily, drink alcohol in risky quantities, and use meth/amphetamines in the previous 12 months1.

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Homosexual and bisexual populations

Use of illicit drugs in the last 12 months was more common among homosexual or bisexual people than heterosexual people.

Homosexual/bisexual people were nearly 6 times more likely to use ecstasy than heterosexual people and over 4 times more likely to use meth/amphetamines (including ice). Illicit drug use was slightly more common than smoking tobacco and drinking in the homosexual and bisexual population.1

There were no significant changes seen in the usage rates of alcohol and illicit drugs of this group between 2010 and 20131.

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Pregnant women

Since 2007, the proportion of women consuming alcohol during pregnancy has declined and the proportion abstaining has increased (40.0% in 2007 to 52.8% in 2013)1.

Most pregnant women tend to change their drinking behaviour once they find out they are pregnant. However, 1 in 4 pregnant women continued to drink once they knew they were pregnant.1

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Further information

Statistics

Resources

References

1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2014). 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report. Canberra: AIHW.

2. Collins, D., & Lapsley, H. (2008). The costs of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug abuse to Australian society in 2004/05 [PDF:934KB]. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

3. Manning, M., Smith, C., & Mazerolle, P. (2013). The societal costs of alcohol misuse in Australia. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.

4. National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol, Canberra: NHMRC.

5. Mitchell, A., Patrick, K,. Heywood, W., Blackman, P., & Pitts, M. (2014). 5th National Survey of Australian Secondary Students and Sexual Health 2013, (ARCSHS Monograph Series No. 97), Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.

6. Fact sheet: Overdose: Worse than the road toll [PDF:51KB]. (n.d.). Carlton: Overdose Awareness Day.

7. Lloyd, B., Matthews, S., & Gao, C.X. (2014). Ambo Project – Alcohol and drug related ambulance attendances: Trends in alcohol and drug related ambulance attendances in Victoria 2012/13 [PDF:436KB]. Fitzroy: Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre.

8. Gao, C., Ogeil, R.P., & Lloyd, B. (2014) Alcohol's burden of disease in Australia [PDF:568KB]. Canberra: FARE and VicHealth in collaboration with Turning Point.

9. Sindicich, N., & Burns, L. (2014). An overview of the 2014 Ecstasy and related Drugs Reporting System, Drug Trends Bulletin. Sydney: NDARC.

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Last updated: 9 June 2016

Information you heard is intended as a general guide only. This audio is copyrighted by the Australian Drug Foundation. Visit www.DrugInfo.ADF.org.au for more